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Writing Indian, Native Conversations. By John Purdy. (review)

Writing Indian, Native Conversations. By John Purdy. (review)
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  Writing Indian, Native Conversations (review) Stuart Christie Western American Literature, Volume 45, Number 1, Spring 2010,pp. 84-85 (Article) Published by The Western Literature Association DOI: 10.1353/wal.0.0092  For additional information about this article Access Provided by Hong Kong Baptist University at 12/24/12 4:16AM GMT  84WesternAmericanLiteratureSpring2010 Writing Indian, Native Conversations.   By John Lloyd Purdy. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2009. 302 pages, $45.00. Reviewed by Stuart Christie Hong Kong Baptist University  Dialogic in voice, John Lloyd Purdy’s Writing Indian, Native Conversations  offers a thirty-year retrospective on the field of indigenous literary studiesfrom its earliest formations into the present day. Combining transcribedinterviews with the field’s most distinguished writers, close readings of essential novels, and Purdy’s own inter-leaved interpretations, the volumeoffers thoughtful interpretive pauses astride the on-going conversationshe held as the former editor of  Studies in American Indian Literatures (SAIL)   with Paula Gunn Allen, Simon Ortiz, Gerald Vizenor, Sherman Alexie,and Louis Owens.Given these writers’ diverse viewpoints about their craft and roles,Purdy achieves remarkable cohesion concerning when and where fieldconsciousness emerged (in Flagstaff, Arizona, in 1977), its most salientcharacteristics, and where it is headed. With so much ground to cover, theaim of the book is not so much schematic as integrative, tending towardan interpretive dynamic Purdy calls DIAC: differentiation, investigation,affirmation, and continuation (xvi). The acronym is perhaps too tidy, butthe focus capably delimits the field and its various voices.Purdy’s unobtrusive approach holds its own in distinguished com-pany because, from the outset, it is crystal clear that the book is notgarden-variety theorizing about Very Important Indians (VIIs) held apartfrom classroom and community practice. The phrases “my students,”“questions from the students,” and “in response to the students” echothroughout the book, reminding principals to the conversation andreaders alike where the real focus of the future lies. The interplay amonginterviews, criticism, and implied student-readers creates the kinetic, story-telling medium—the give-and-take of a field in motion rather than thesettling out of hard-line stances—that Purdy is arguing for on behalf of aliving critical practice.Purdy’s long reach and memory also make his book important forspecialists. Writing Indian, Native Conversations restores largely overlookedearly anthologies (by Joseph Bruchac, Geary Hobson, Kenneth Rosen)to their rightful place in the literary history of the early formation of indigenous studies. In its reading of novels by Thomas King and D’Arcy McNickle alongside films by Victor Masayesva Jr., Gerald Vizenor, and  BookReviews85 Sherman Alexie, the book also neatly cues the increasing convergence of otherwise distinctly different techniques within the intersecting domainsof indigenous film and literary studies. Whatever the text, Purdy per-suades when arguing for common artistic ground—a sophisticated textualpractice united by a common cause. Yet Writing Indian, Native Conversations also welcomes the uniniti-ated and conveys standard material with fresh relevance and energy, anapproach best conveyed in Purdy’s important analysis of McNickle’s TheSurrounded (1936). This novel provides “a recognition of an on-going cul-tural lifeway. … [The tight focus] also marks a shifting in the audience’sinterpretive lens, for we are curiously situated for translating Archilde’sintuitive recording” (235). Intuitive, shifting, translational: John LloydPurdy’s Writing Indian, Native Conversations offers the best witness to dateof the historical foundations of the field of indigenous literary studies,rebuilt anew with each passing decade. Most important, it honors its read-ers, whether they are rooted in sovereignty or merely respectful visitorspassing through. Everything You Know about Indians Is Wrong  . By Paul Chaat Smith. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2009. 193 pages, $21.95. Reviewed by Bryan Russell University of Texas at Austin During a question-and-answer session at an exhibit opening in a Vancouver museum, Comanche scholar Paul Chaat Smith finally let goof some of the anxiety of Indian identity that he had carried with himsince his youth. “There are some standards of Indianness I will nevermeet, period, and some parking meters that will never be satisfied nomatter how many quarters I feed them” (171). Smith says this revelationcame about after a museum visitor asked him about the Bering Straittheory, with the likely aim, Smith suggests, of discrediting Indian claimsof srcinating in the Americas. Like trying to fill a bucket with a hole in it,conforming to markers of authenticity imposed from both the inside andoutside is an exercise in futility for one who is trying to be Indian enough.Central to this collection is the question of why Indians have to fill sucha bucket in the first place.Moments such as this one punctuate this collection of essays writtenduring the span of a decade. The essays range in topic from the kitschfactor of those ubiquitous “Fighting Terrorism Since 1492” T-shirts that
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